Tag Archives: Arguments for and against Independence

Nietzsche Versus Darling on Scottish Independence

The philosophical concept of eternal recurrence is a complex one. Friedrich Nietzsche used it to put forward an interesting hypothesis about the existential plight of human beings.

His aim was to capture the idea that we could be forever locked into a fatalistic cycle of continually recurring events. There are times when life comes close to feeling like that; most of the time British politics feels exactly like that – the former Chancellor, Alistair Darling might be able to shed some light on that.

But first Nietzsche, who invited us to imagine how awful and frightening it would be to suddenly realise that everything that had already happened to us in this world would happen over and over again, down to the minutest detail, with no variation and no opportunity to escape.

In Nietzsche’s fatalistic scenario, it would take an exceptional person to recognise that this is what human existence was like. Rather than fall into a state of despair, his superior strength of mind would enable him to embrace eternal recurrence and learn to love his fate.

We don’t need to be fatalists nowadays to appreciate why eternal recurrence might actually seem like a comforting idea to many people. Not necessarily in a metaphysical sense, but in an everyday sense that captures the belief that our core patterns of social, political and economic exchange ought to be reliable, predictable and guaranteed to be in place again tomorrow.

It would be entirely natural to feel a sense of dread when trying to imagine what it would be like if these predictable patterns were suddenly disrupted for good. And in the event that there were insufficient detail available to understand exactly how that disruption would affect our lives, our fears would start to fall quite neatly into the gaps opened up by our unconstrained imaginings.

This is how Scottish independence is depicted in some quarters, with a great deal being made about the horrible uncertainty that would follow. Alistair Darling invited us to imagine how awful and frightening it would be to buy a one-way ticket to an uncertain destination. And despite his disastrous spell in charge of the United Kingdom’s bank balance, he still tries hard to spook us about the turbulent and troubled world we would be inviting into our lives if we voted against the absolute certainty of the union.

But rather than run away from it, it is actually worth remembering there is an important place for uncertainty in our lives: exceptional outcomes are often achieved when a major change comes along to shock us out of our old routines.

The psychological discomfort that accompanies major change, and the feeling of uncertainty it creates, can be the catalyst for unexpected growth, whether for an individual previously afraid to deviate from an established routine, or for a nation hitherto not even permitted that basic right.

Unlike the set up in Nietzsche’s fatalistic landscape, and despite Darling’s apocalyptic warnings, it is perfectly possible, and highly desirable, that the ordinary man in the street should disrupt the eternally recurring political manoeuvres that continually conspire to have a detrimental effect on Scottish society.

Of course, and with Thatcherism to one side, it is not that these manoeuvres were purposely designed to damage Scotland, or other parts of the United Kingdom for that matter; far from it. It is rather that the absolute supremacy of Westminster, and the London centric policies its politicians are slave to, means that we will be unable to maximise the potential of our natural resources for the benefit of our people for as long as we remain locked into this rigid union.

There is something to be said for embracing uncertainty, particularly when the certainty we are being urged to stick with is for the benefit of a union that has gone so far down a one way track that it can do nothing else now, other than feed its powerful and insatiable economic centre, whilst telling the story that is in the best interest of our country that we are set up this way.

The underlying reality is as rock solid and certain as you could ever imagine it to be; in this respect, Darling is right on the money (for once).

It is a reality in which Scotland’s democratic deficit is guaranteed for evermore; it is a reality in which we know that Scotland’s position on social equality and welfare will never be driven by the people of Scotland but by a Government in Westminster with entirely different priorities and allegiances; it is a reality in which we can be assured that Scotland’s true wealth will never be used for the benefit of the people of Scotland, but to help pay for colossal infrastructure projects with no benefit to Scotland, support illegal wars we did not agree to, and host weapons of mass destruction we neither need, nor want.

Now, I am no fatalist. Yet I feel more inclined to heed the words of Nietzsche over Darling: how awful and frightening it would be to suddenly realise that everything that had already happened to us in this world would happen over and over again, down to the minutest detail, with no variation and no opportunity to escape…

As far as I concerned, this is the most exciting year in Scotland’s history.

Let’s hope 2014 is an exceptional one.

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The Cultural Argument for Scottish Independence

It is too easy to get bogged down in heavy and complicated arguments about the assumed economic consequences of Scottish independence. Arguments of that type tend to be quite flimsy when thrashed out and in reality probably won’t get us very far anyway.

The problem is that nobody really knows or understands what the economic consequences would look like. Many people will claim to be an authority on the matter, but we will really only get a clear picture as we live through it.

So I think it is useful to take a break from that and think about the independence debate from the starting point of the cultural argument instead. It helps because it put things back into perspective. In an interesting article in The Herald earlier this week, Alan Riach, Professor of Scottish Literature at Glasgow University, wrote that the only real argument for Scottish independence is the cultural one:


Not looking to dismiss the importance of economics, Professor Riach’s focus is on the way in which the Arts and Literature contribute to Scotland’s distinct cultural identity. His central point is that independence is the only means of ensuring the continuation of the latter as that which truly differentiates us as Scots.

He goes on to suggest that three hundred years of institutional neglect in the Scottish education system has brought about a situation in which ignorance of the true value of our body of Literature, in comparison to our better knowledge and understanding of English Literature, for example, has led to negativity towards it, and in some cases, fear of having to teach it.

This is an important point. I think it taps into a much wider concern about the manner in which the Scottish cultural identity has tended to be institutionally marginalised in favour of the British (English) cultural identity, which has had the unforgiveable effect of suppressing our true sense of who we are as Scots, and our positive sense of place in the world.

As an example of this, you only need to think about the scorn and contempt once shown towards speakers of Scots dialects to get a feeling for what has been lost. Language is a living repository of the traditions and practices that shape who we are. To suppress it is to suppress our belief in ourselves as people and as a nation.

Although it may be lost in the mess of economic arguments as the referendum approaches, I completely agree that the cultural argument for Scottish independence should be given greater prominence. But for me, the most important argument for independence is always going to be that it is about your country reclaiming its right to make all of its decisions autonomously. It is about reclaiming the right to self determination.

However in saying that, I believe that there is an important sense in which Professor Riach’s cultural argument could throw some light on why not everyone agrees with the autonomy argument – the generational suppression of our true sense of worth in the world has had the effect of building up a deep hostility in some quarters, and a feeling of utter dread in others, towards the idea of reclaiming this fundamental right.

Perhaps this has always been part of the three hundred year old plan. But it is always possible that some of those who believe they are doing themselves justice by regurgitating politically biased economic arguments as a means of expressing these otherwise barely articulable emotions, will eventually reject the media influenced interpretation of their emotions as feelings of fear of going it alone, and finally learn to identify them as feelings produced by generations of cultural marginalisation.

At least, that’s what I hope will happen.


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Precariously Pinned Together

Whereas Alistair Darling previously threatened that voting for Scottish independence would be like buying a one-way ticket to a deeply uncertain place, Gordon Brown this week warned that it would signal the start of the race to the bottom.

For some people retaining the union is about having an emotional commitment to a tradition and a history. And that is absolutely to be acknowledged and respected, whether we feel the same commitment or not.

But the rhetoric of the likes of Darling and Brown, which unashamedly exploits this emotional commitment, clearly shows that what lies at the heart of the no campaign is neither decent political debate concerning the true interests of Scotland, nor sound economic argument relevant to the country’s financial standing before and after independence.

Rather it is about a deep rooted unwillingness to lose control over the critical variables – mainly the fiscal levers, as they have been occasionally described – that could potentially damage the wealth, privilege and position of certain elite groups of individuals, and undermine the competitiveness of certain other economic areas across the United Kingdom.

Ensuring that Scotland’s right to determine its own social, political and economic future is not granted is therefore their priority, rather than creating a progressive unionist strategy to improve the quality of life, educational opportunities and employment prospects across the whole of the United Kingdom as it currently stands.

The problem is that such a strategy has never been viewed as an integral component of the unionist campaign. It has simply been about blocking a movement for change, for selfish reasons, whereas it should have been about recognising that the motivations behind that movement are signs that the United Kingdom is predicated on a union that is not fit for purpose.

Grasp that simple fact and the unconvincing frontmen like Darling and Brown could have had a better chance of gaining credibility for their paymaster’s position, and perhaps significantly more support.

But those of an independent mind needn’t worry. That is never going to happen. It just doesn’t figure in the thinking of those who run the United Kingdom government that the fundamental political and economic structures precariously pinning the country together need to change.

So in the meantime we can happily let the better together campaigners continue their efforts to persuade the people of Scotland that it is in their interests to stop looking for change. That it is in their interests to stop seeking the right to make their own decisions, just so that the status quo continues to deliver its cosy benefits for a small pocket of people spread throughout the United Kingdom, including Scotland.

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